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In a surprising move, the prosecutor who announced murder charges against the Chicago police officer who fatally shot Laquan McDonald said Thursday that she would withdraw from the case.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who lost her reelection bid earlier this year in the Democratic primary, said she was asking the court to appoint a special prosecutor in her place.
“While it is has not been an easy decision, I believe that it is the right one because it will help to avoid unnecessary legal delays and provide continuity in the handling of this very important and complicated case,” Alvarez said in a statement. “It would also ensure that one designated prosecutor will handle this case as it proceeds to trial.”
On Thursday, Alvarez said there was “no legal conflict of interest” that would stop her office from prosecuting the case, but that she felt it was responsible to turn things to a special prosecutor given her recent electoral loss and the reality that a new prosecutor will replace her.
In a court filing responding to petitions calling for a special prosecutor, Alvarez pushed back against the argument that she was too close to the police department and the police union. But she wrote that her primary goal “is, and has always been, to obtain justice for Laquan McDonald” as well as making sure there was continuity in the case.
Alvarez had been heavily criticized over her decision to wait more than a year to announce murder charges against Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago officer who fired 16 bullets in McDonald in October 2014.
Video footage of the shooting was released last November, going public on the same day Alvarez announced that Van Dyke would be charged. It set off a firestorm, prompting a federal investigation, extensive protests and the resignation of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.